By TMoM Team Member, Felicity Lewis
North Carolina is well-known for three things: basketball, NASCAR, and barbecue. And while basketball rivalries can prove divisive, if you want to see some passion, ask someone where to find good BBQ. Almost any recommendation will get you an outstanding meal, but to find the best, you’ll need to stray from the beaten path.
Barbecue has many meanings. Most of them are wrong. Barbecue is NEVER A VERB. If someone asks you to barbecue some burgers, bless their heart and give them a sweet tea, but condemn their heresy! Barbecue isn’t a place, nor is it chicken, and it probably shouldn’t be ribs or brisket. In North Carolina, barbecue is smoked pork that is chopped, sliced, or pulled. It must be cooked over wood or coals, and ideally shouldn’t be tainted by gas or electricity.
You can probably smell the smoky already. You also probably agree that you shouldn’t apply mustard (sorry South Carolina) or white sauce (sorry Alabama) to your wonderfully cooked meat. However, as much as we can feel united in pork, barbecue divides as much as it unites. And we can’t ignore that. At some time in the history of the Tar Heel State, there was a great divide.
Down east, barbecue is typically made from the whole hog. It is smoked with a lightly applied vinegar-based sauce. Great establishments like Clyde Cooper’s (Raleigh), B’s (Greenville), Parker’s (Wilson), and King’s (Kinston) have been cooking like this for decades.
In the west, BBQ is created from the shoulder alone and has a red sauce applied. It shouldn’t be drenched, but the sauce is more present than down east. Easterners often characterize this as a ketchup- based sauce, but that’s a bit of a mis-characterization. Lexington-style sauce is a complex nectar that contains tomato, vinegar, spices, and peppers.
I’ve never met a Carolinian that didn’t have a preference on where they fall on the divide. Except, perhaps those confused souls growing up along the dividing line (southeast of I-85 but west of Raleigh). I’ll avoid voicing my stance, but I do want to nominate a few spots that deserve a visit.
Skylight Inn BBQ, Ayden – But for the existence of the Skylight Inn, I wouldn’t know where Ayden was. It’s located about 12 (country) miles south of Greenville. It is absolutely worth the drive, however. This is the quintessential Eastern BBQ joint. They smoke whole hog barbecue out back, and you can see them chop it inside with a giant cleaver—probably the same one they’ve used since 1947. You’ll want to go early, as I’ve heard they close when they run out.
Lexington Barbecue aka Honeymonk’s, Lexington – The city of Lexington is synonymous with BBQ and you could attribute that success to dozens of joints, but the can’t miss spot in Lexington has to be Lexington Barbecue.
B’s Barbecue, Greenville – If you are driving to the Outer Banks, hop off the highway and jump in line for B’s Barbecue. Be warned, they close early.
Fuzzy’s Bar-B-Que, Madison – I’ve eaten a lot of BBQ. Fuzzy’s is different than any I’ve ever had.
Raleigh: Clyde Cooper’s – this place is a BBQ landmark located downtown Raleigh.
Greensboro: Stamey’s – Top notch BBQ done right. Plus, Lexington Barbecue’s founder got started working at Stamey’s!
Charlotte: Sorry, Charlotte, but my advice is to drive up 85 to Lexington.
Durham: Backyard BBQ Pit – This place started out as a neighborhood BBQ joint but took off once it got a lot of publicity.
Winston-Salem: Real Q (Formerly Little Richard’s) – Good Lexington-style Q. Beware that the various Little Richard’s around the area aren’t the same.
Fayetteville: Fuller’s Old Fashioned Bar-B-Q – The only buffet on this list, it’s worth a stop.
Wilmington: Jackson’s Big Oak Barbecue – When you’ve had your fill of seafood, swing on by and get some good Q.
Asheville: Buxton Hall Barbecue – Asheville does things a little different. This place is newer and hipper than most, but these hipsters know how to smoke a pig.
Did I miss any? Chime in with your favorites below!
Lead image Photo credit: Backyard BBQ
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